Friday, April 13, 2007

The Unlevel Playing Field of Name Disclosure

The Duke Lacrosse case shines more light on one of the injustices of how we do justice in America. The three accused were vilified for months while the accuser . . . well, we didn’t know who the accuser was until the past few days because, as is standard in rape cases, her name wasn’t revealed.

This policy of revealing the names of the accused in sex crime cases but concealing the names of accusers has got to go. It enables and encourages false accusations. Disclosing the names of accused does the dirty work of false accusers, dragging reputations through the mud while the accuser is protected by anonymity.

And there is less opportunity for people to come forward and say, “I know the accuser, and he/she is a liar. And here’s a previous time she lied.” Meanwhile, past alleged victims of the accused sometimes come forward once the accused’s name is out there. Most of these instances are surely legit. But I always wondered how many who come forward after the fact are simply opportunists who are piling on. When there’s money involved, as in the accusations against Catholic priests, I suspect more than we know.

In any case, it’s an unlevel playing field.

I’ve long felt that you either reveal the names of both the accuser and the accused in sex crime cases, or you reveal neither. I lean strongly toward revealing neither. One plus of that is that it may discourage some of the sensationalistic irresponsible news media coverage of sex cases. It would increase chances of a fair trial. And it wouldn’t discourage legitimate accusations from coming forward.

But the current standard of throwing the reputations of the accused to the wolves, even before indictment, while concealing the names of accusers is an outrage.

There are now calls for justice reform after the vindication of the Duke Lacrosse Three. Leveling name disclosure policies would be a good start.

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